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Health chiefs across Europe are warning that the fast-spreading coronavirus variant B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the UK, is threatening to spark a third wave of Covid-19 across the continent.
“The number of people dying from Covid-19 in Europe is higher now than it was this time last year, reflecting the widespread hold this virus has,” warned World Health Organisation Europe director, Hans Kluge, at a press conference on Thursday, March 18.
The third wave has already taken hold in some countries, with some 20 EU countries in the European Union reporting that more people are testing positive and Intensive Care Unit admissions are increasing, reports NewScientist.
“We have now seen 3 consecutive weeks of growth in Covid-19 cases with over 1.2 million new cases reported last week across Europe,” Kluge said.
On Thursday, France reported 34,998 new cases of COVID-19 – down slightly from over 38,000 new infections on Wednesday, and Paris is among 16 French regions that are set to go into lockdown for at least four weeks from midnight on Friday.
Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, also warned that progress towards easing the country's lockdown would have to be slowed and the country “may even have to take steps backwards.”
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France was one of one of about a dozen European countries that suspended the use of the British Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this week, after concerns were raised that the jab could be linked to blood clots.
But overnight the European Medicines Agency reviewed the reports about the AstraZeneca jab’s side effects, and confirmed that it was "safe and effective”.
While most countries have started using the AstraZeneca vaccine again, Norway, Sweden and Denmark are yet to lift their restrictions.
Meanwhile, here in the UK, Health Secretary Matt Hancock insists that all the government lockdown relaxation targets will still be met, and the roadmap to lift lockdown in England will be unaffected, despite a major hiccup in the vaccine supply line.
The UK’s R number – the average number of people each coronavirus case infects – appears have risen slightly according to recent estimates. The most recent official estimate puts it between 0.6 and 0.9. That’s up from last week when it was thought to be somewhere between 0.6 and 0.8.
The overall number of infections in Britain is still falling, but the rate of decrease is slowing and infections may even be on the rise again in some UK regions, the report adds.
- World Health Organisation
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